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Newsline - January 24, 2006


RUSSIA SAYS BRITISH BROKE 'GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT' ON SPYING...
Colonel Sergei Ignatchenko, the head of public relations for the Federal Security Service (FSB), told reporters in Moscow on 23 January that his organization decided to reveal what he called four British Embassy employees' spying activity in a recent broadcast by RTR state television after the British allegedly broke a "gentlemen's agreement" barring espionage work by the official representative of the Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6) in Russia, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). He stressed that "the secret services have a gentlemen's agreement that the official SIS representative will not be involved in espionage. We see that these agreements were breached in this case. In essence, we were deceived. In the near future, we will meet with SIS representatives to talk about these problems." Ignatchenko argued that the four diplomats had been caught "financing a number of nongovernmental organizations. They denied that they were working against us. Only after that did we decide to make the FSB's information public." PM

...AND REQUIRES A 'POLITICAL SOLUTION'
FSB spokesman Colonel Ignatchenko said in Moscow on 23 January that the case involving the four British diplomats "requires a political solution," RIA Novosti reported. He did not elaborate. In London, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to comment on the story, adding that "the less said about that, the better," the "Financial Times" and "The Washington Post" reported. Some British media stressed that the Russian actions are a throwback to the days of the Cold War and could possibly result in mutual expulsions of diplomats. The last such row between the two countries over alleged spying took place in 1996, when President Boris Yeltsin was running for a second term. Critics in Russia and abroad said on 23 January that the Kremlin has raised the spying issue now to help justify recent legislation aimed at better controlling NGOs. Lyudmila Alekseyeva, who heads the NGO Moscow Helsinki Group, which was mentioned in the RTR broadcast, said in Moscow that the authorities want to shut her organization down and used the broadcast as a "deliberate attempt" to destroy its reputation. She said the incriminating documents presented in the film were "fake." PM

GAZPROM BOOSTS GAS DELIVERIES
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in Moscow on 23 January that the state-run monopoly has begun producing 85 million cubic meters of natural gas per day over its planned volume and is now operating at full capacity, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2006). He argued that "the current freeze presents a situation unique in the last decade. And thanks to Gazprom's efforts, we can live through it in warm flats with gas and electricity." Kupriyanov added, however, that any customers who have the option of switching to coal or heating oil should do so. Elsewhere, Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Medvedev said that Ukraine is not sending on to Russia's European customers all the gas that Gazprom has been trying to get to them. On 24 January, officials of Naftohaz Ukrayiny said in Kyiv that their firm has been accessing Russian gas "in excess of the plan" because of the cold snap but "will meet the January balance as agreed with Russia," ITAR-TASS reported. PM

RUSSIA EXPANDS ITS G-8 GUEST LIST
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said in Moscow on 23 January that the Russian presidency of the G-8 countries has invited his counterparts from India, China, Brazil, and South Africa to attend the 11 February Moscow gathering of member states' finance ministers after previously suggesting that the four would not be included, Reuters reported. "We reached the conclusion that...a meeting [with the four] would be useful," he said. PM

CHIEF JUDGE CALLS FOR CHECK ON KREMLIN'S POWER
Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin said in Moscow recently that Russia is moving towards becoming a presidential republic, "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 January. "In these conditions, you need very solid, independent courts. If you do not have [such] courts, then not only will citizens' rights not be protected, but also there will not be checks, or reins...on the executive," he said. Zorkin added that if that happens, "we will have not a strengthened executive branch or a presidential republic but...a trend toward arbitrary rule, toward dictatorship of the worst kind." Russia's most senior judge argued that he is not criticizing the Kremlin and stressed that a strong presidency is needed to fight crime. He also praised what he called President Putin's efforts to strengthen the judiciary. Zorkin acquired a reputation as a strong defender of the law in the early 1990s against President Yeltsin. In 2005, however, he defended the constitutionality of Putin's abolition of gubernatorial elections. PM

COMMUNIST CANDIDATE PULLS OUT OF DUMA BY-ELECTION
Yelena Lukyanova, who is a law professor and daughter of former State Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Anatoly Lukyanov, announced in Moscow on 23 January that she has withdrawn as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation's (KPRF) candidate from a 12 March State Duma by-election in northeast Moscow's Medvedkovo district, "The Moscow Times" reported. She said that she "withdrew because...[another] candidate does not enjoy the same rights I do." This is a reference to former Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, who is in custody on charges of trying to kill Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatoly Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September and 5 October 2005). She added that the Duma has become a "rubber stamp that only follows orders from above." The KPRF has fared less well at the polls in Moscow than in most other regions. PM

REPAIR WORK ON RUSSIA-GEORGIA GAS PIPELINE POSTPONED...
President Putin issued orders on 23 January to Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems (EES) to expedite repairs to the two pipelines that supply natural gas from Russia to Georgia and Armenia and to the high-voltage power line in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Russian media reported. All three facilities were damaged on 22 January by explosions that the FSB has characterized as deliberate sabotage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). At the request of the Georgian government, Georgian specialists traveled on 23 January to North Ossetia to monitor repairs to the gas pipeline, but the repair work has been suspended indefinitely due to a leakage of gas condensate, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 January. LF

...AS RUSSIA-GEORGIA WAR OF WORDS CONTINUES
The Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 23 January criticizing what it termed "unveiled threats" and "bitter, acrimonious and insulting" statements contained in a 22 January response by the Russian Foreign Ministry to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's allegations that the Russian government sabotaged the gas pipelines to Georgia in a bid to undermine Georgia's independence, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). In Tbilisi, Russian Ambassador Vladimir Chkhikvishvili said the Georgian accusations are illogical and will further exacerbate the already strained relations between the two countries, Caucasus Press reported. Chkhikvishvili added that he sees "no sense" in trying to iron out the last few remaining glitches in the framework treaty on bilateral relations that has been in preparation for several years, given that bilateral relations have now reached their worst point in 15 years. In Moscow, Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska demanded that the Georgian leadership apologize for its "unfriendly statements," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

INGUSHETIA DENIES PIPELINE ATTACKED FROM ITS TERRITORY
A press spokesman for the Republic of Ingushetia's Interior Ministry rejected on 23 January as "a provocation" statements by law-enforcement officials and prosecutor's office personnel in the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia blaming the previous day's gas pipeline sabotage in North Ossetia on militants operating from the territory of Ingushetia, the opposition website ingushetiya.ru reported. Those accusations were printed in the daily "Kommersant." The Ingushetian spokesman stressed that Ingushetia's borders are reliably patrolled and no border violations have been registered. He added that extremist groups operate in North Ossetia. LF

KABARDINO-BALKARIA INTERIOR MINISTER ANTICIPATES FURTHER TERRORIST ATTACKS
Lieutenant General Khachim Shogenov told a meeting of Interior Ministry and security personnel on 23 January that as long as members of radical Islamic groups in Kabardino-Balkaria remain at liberty, there is a danger of further multiple attacks similar to those launched in Nalchik on 13 October, apparently by members and sympathizers of the Yarmuk djamaat, regnum.ru and RIA-Novosti reported on 23 January. Shogenov said those groups have considerable sums of money at their disposal, and he called for more effective measures to locate and apprehend the militants and to cut off their sources of financing. LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON GAS PRICES
During talks in Moscow on 22 January following a ceremony to mark the inauguration of the Year of Armenia in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian failed to reach agreement on the price of future Russian gas supplies to Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 23 January. Russia agreed earlier this month to postpone a planned doubling of the gas price (from $56 to $110 per 1,000 cubic meters) from 1 January to 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). Kocharian's spokesman Victor Soghomonian denied on 23 January a report in the Russian newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" earlier that day that quoted an unnamed senior Armenian official as saying that Kocharian offered Moscow a 45 percent stake in the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline currently under construction in exchange for pegging the price of Russian gas supplies to Armenia at the current level. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT LAMBASTES YEREVAN MUNICIPAL COUNCIL
At a 20 January meeting with the mayor of Yerevan and heads of the city's district councils, President Kocharian harshly criticized municipal officials' failure to coordinate municipal services such as water and gas supplies, garbage collection, and urban transport, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 January. Kocharian also warned that in future the Oversight Service will monitor more closely the sales by auction of building plots in Yerevan, a process that he implied is riddled with corruption. The newspaper "168 zham" on 21 January quoted presidential spokesman Victor Soghomonian as denying rumors that Yervand Zakharian has been dismissed from the post of Yerevan mayor to which Kocharian appointed him in July 2003. Zakharian raised eyebrows shortly after his appointment when he failed to provide a convincing explanation for his acquisition of a Mercedes limousine estimated to have cost some $80,000-$100,000, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 2 September 2003. Zakharian insisted that the car was purchased second-hand at a lower price. LF

AZERBAIJANI MINISTRY MONITORS RADIATION FROM RUSSIAN RADAR FACILITY
Azerbaijan's Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources has determined that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the Qabala radar station does not exceed the internationally accepted norm, day.az reported on 24 January, citing APA news agency. The ministry said it has conducted daily monitoring at 41 locations across the country, including in the immediate vicinity of Qabala, and that radiation levels there are not markedly higher than elsewhere. Local residents have complained since the late 1980s that high radiation levels in the vicinity of Qabala have resulted in a marked rise in the incidence of cancer and of congenital defects in children. Russia signed an agreement with the Azerbaijani government in early 2002 to lease Qabala for a further 10 years for an annual fee of $7 million (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 31 January 2002). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY SPLITS
At a 22 January emergency congress of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), 210 of the 216 delegates present voted no confidence in Ali Aliyev, who was elected AMIP chairman in two contested ballots one year ago, day.az and zerkalo.az reported on 24 January. Ayaz Rustamov was elected acting chairman; Etibar Mammadov, whom Aliyev succeeded as chairman and who now occupies the honorary position of party "leader," told journalists on 23 January that a successor to Aliyev will be chosen at an AMIP conference in April. Also on 22 January, Aliyev's supporters within AMIP convened a rival congress on the premises of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) and voted to abolish the honorary post of AMIP "leader." Leading members of the ADP and of its partners in the Azadliq election bloc, the Musavat party and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, attended the session convened by Aliyev and expressed their support for him, zerkalo.az reported on 24 January. Mammadov accused Aliyev on 24 January of trying to appropriate the right to name his rival organization AMIP (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 January 2006). LF

RUSSIA LAUDS ABKHAZ PRESIDENT'S PEACE INITIATIVE
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 23 January hailing the peace proposal outlined by Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, in his 20 January letter to the UN Security Council. In that letter, Bagapsh requested that his republic be represented at the upcoming 28 January Security Council session that is to discuss the Abkhaz conflict, and he proposed that Georgia and Abkhazia sign a formal document abjuring the use of force and militant rhetoric. Bagapsh further proposed ending the international blockade of Abkhazia; implementing the confidence-building measures agreed upon during talks in Sochi three year ago, including the resumption of rail traffic via Abkhazia, the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons, and renovating the Inguri hydroelectric power station; and beginning "civilized negotiations" on all issues relevant to the conflict, with the exception of Abkhazia's status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). The Russian Foreign Ministry commentary (http://www.ln.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/0/15A0082F49A12031C32570FF003D2E10) termed Bagapsh's proposal "realistic" and "constructive," and it lauded Abkhazia's stated willingness to abide by international standards with regard to the human rights of the predominantly Georgian population of Abkhazia's Gali district, including the right of Georgian children to attend schools in which the language of instruction is Georgian. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT SETS OUT PRIORITIES FOR CABINET
Nursultan Nazarbaev met with the members of Kazakhstan's new government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 January 2006) at his residence in Astana on 23 January to set out the cabinet's priorities, Khabar reported. Nazarbaev said that the first priority is modernizing the economy, the second priority is ensuring a breakthrough for accelerated economic development, and the third priority is a social policy to "defend the weak while supporting economic development." He also said that Kazakhstan will try to set up a holding company to manage state assets in the first quarter of 2006, possibly with "an experienced foreigner" at the helm to ensure transparency, Interfax reported. Although Nazarbaev praised the work of the previous government, which differs little from the current cabinet, he said that the Finance Ministry needs to exert greater fiscal discipline and the Energy Ministry should work harder on the process of awarding rights to oil and gas fields, Khabar reported. DK

RUSSIAN CELL-PHONE VENDOR IN TROUBLE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Mamazundun Shamiev, director of the Kyrgyz Customs Inspection's department for combating contraband, told the Russian daily "Kommersant" on 23 January that on 20 January Kyrgyz customs inspectors shut down all the Bishkek stores belonging to Russia's Evroset, a chain of stores selling cell phones and accessories. Evroset, which operates over 3,000 stores and did more than $2.5 billion worth of business in 2005, recently opened five stores in the Kyrgyz capital. Shamiev told "Kommersant" that Evroset's Bishkek stores have $340,000 worth of contraband merchandise in stock. Evroset chairman Evgenii Chichvarkin told the newspaper that no formal charges have been filed against the company, and he suggested Kyrgyz officials may hope "to get something from a big Russian company." Analysts queried by the newspaper said that Evroset may need to minimize political risks by acquiring a local partner; they noted the difficulties Russia's Mobile TeleSystems is having with its acquisition of Kyrgyzstan's Bitel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2005). "Kommersant" reported that Evroset's stores had reopened on 22 January with a limited assortment of goods. DK

FORMER KYRGYZ MINISTER JOINS OPPOSITION PARTY
Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva told a press conference in Bishkek on 23 January that she has become the cochairwoman of the Asaba political party, Kabar reported. She and party head Azimbek Beknazarov, a former prosecutor-general who is now in opposition to President Kurmanbek Bakiev, hope to strengthen the party and "renew the country's political elite," Otunbaeva said. The party plans to hold a congress in mid-February. DK

PROTESTORS RESIST PRESIDENT'S DECREES ON KYRGYZ GOVERNORS
A group of several thousand supporters on 23 January carried Talas Governor Iskenderbek Aidaraliev into his office in Talas in defiance of a 19 January presidential decree appointing Aidaraliev governor of Jalal-Abad Province, akipress.org and Ferghana.ru reported. President Bakiev's decision to dismiss Jalalabad Governor Jusupbek Jeenbekov sparked protests in Jalalabad, where demonstrators refused to let Jeenbekov leave and prevented Aidaraliev from assuming his new post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). Akipress.org reported later on 23 January that Jeenbekov was meeting with Bakiev, but the news agency provided no details on the results of their talks. DK

WORLD BANK PLANS TAJIK DEBT WRITE-OFF
World Bank Senior Vice President Francois Bourguignon said on 23 January that the bank intends to write off Tajikistan's $307 million debt to the financial institution, Interfax reported. Bourguignon met earlier with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe. DK

UZBEK OPPOSITION GROUP CALLS OPEN TRIAL FOR JAILED LEADER
Uzbekistan's opposition Sunshine Coalition issued a press release on 23 January calling for an open trial for the group's jailed leader, Sanjar Umarov, Ferghana.ru reported. The press release stated that Umarov's lawyers have not been able to meet with him for nearly a month, and that Umarov's wife has appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for assistance. The coalition called for an open trial attended by journalists from Uzbekistan and abroad, rights defenders, and representatives of humanitarian organizations so that "all participants will be witnesses to the groundlessness and absurdity of the charges [against Umarov]." Umarov, who was arrested in October 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005), faces tax evasion charges his supporters say are politically motivated. DK

POLICE DETAIN HEAD OF BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S CAMPAIGN
Police in Minsk on 23 January briefly detained Syarhey Papkou, manager of presidential candidate Zyanon Paznyak's nomination group, Belapan reported. Later the same day, police officers approached Papkou again, suggesting that he follow them to a taxi stop, but he refused. "I don't know what's going on -- either the police are trying to intimidate me, or they are just confused, afraid that their bosses will blame them for nonaction," he commented. Papkou also said that on 22 January police briefly detained six people collecting ballot-access signatures for Paznyak for alleged illegal distribution of leaflets. Paznyak, who left Belarus in 1996 and granted asylum in the United States, told "Moskovskie novosti" on 20 January that he will return to Belarus if he is registered as a candidate for the 19 March vote. Paznyak's organization, the Conservative Christian Party, is campaigning for a "popular vote" by calling on opponents of the incumbent president to cast fake ballots on election day and take away the originals, which will be counted later by an independent commission. The goal of the "popular vote" is to find out how many people actually voted against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in order to substantiate possible claims of vote rigging. JM

BELARUSIAN UNITED OPPOSITION'S CANDIDATE RELIES ON INTERNET, SAMIZDAT
Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the united opposition forces' contender in the 19 March presidential election, said on 23 January that he relies on unofficially printed and distributed periodicals and the Internet in his effort to break through the government-imposed information blockade in the presidential race. Milinkevich was taking part in an online news conference hosted by the RFE/RL Belarus Service's website (http://www.svaboda.org). "There is no equal access to the media now and there will be no equal access during the campaign stage," Milinkevich said. "We bank on the remaining independent newspapers, samizdat, the Internet, and initiatives of active and indifferent people." Milinkevich also said he does not support the alternative-vote idea proposed by Zyanon Paznyak (see above), explaining that such a "popular vote" would only dishearten opponents of President Lukashenka. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS STABILIZATION PLAN FOR PARLIAMENT...
President Viktor Yushchenko on 23 January proposed what he called a "plan for stabilizing the social and political situation in Ukraine," Ukrainian and international media reported. Yushchenko was delivering a televised address to the nation to mark the first anniversary of his inauguration. "I consider it necessary to introduce a moratorium on all decisions or actions by the legislature and executive that could lead to instability in Ukraine," Yushchenko said. He stressed that both branches of power should create all necessary conditions for holding fair parliamentary elections in March. At the same time, Yushchenko called on the current Verkhovna Rada to appoint new judges to the Constitutional Court, a move blocked by lawmakers for months. "I recognize that from 1 January, according to the Verkhovna Rada's decision, a new constitution is in place. But I do not consider it ideal," the president noted. JM

...AND DECLARES 'NATIONAL REFORMS' IN 2006
President Yushchenko pledged in his 23 January address to introduce "national reforms" in the health, education, and agricultural sectors as well as in the judiciary. Yushchenko also stressed that Ukraine's foreign-policy priorities remain unchanged, adding that EU membership is the main strategic goal for Ukraine. "I hope that a new parliament will invigorate work for bringing Ukrainian legislation in line with European norms and standards. This will accelerate Ukraine's advance toward the EU and NATO," he added. JM

UKRAINE DENIES STEALING RUSSIAN GAS
Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov on 23 January admitted that Ukraine has considerably increased gas consumption of late because of the cold weather, but stressed that the country continues to fulfill its obligations regarding he transit of Russian gas to Europe, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Ukraine has consumed 407 million cubic meters of gas over the past 24 hours. This is a record-high figure and, to tell you the truth, our Russian partners are rather nervous about that," Yekhanurov told journalists. Ukraine was using some 280 million cubic meters per day at the start of the year when temperatures were milder. "I am grateful to Gazprom for their understanding of this situation caused by the considerable drop in temperatures and that it allowed the increase of daily consumption limits for Ukraine," Yekhanurov added, effectively denying Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Medvedev's accusation earlier the same day that Ukraine was withholding some Russian gas meant for other European countries. JM

U.S. RESTORES TRADE BENEFITS FOR UKRAINE
U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced on 23 January that the United States has reinstated Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits for Ukraine, international and Ukrainian media reported. Ukraine lost these benefits in 2001 after Washington found the country guilty of failing to protect intellectual-property rights, particularly computer software as well as films and music recorded on compact discs. "I commend the government of Ukraine for its sustained efforts to crack down on copyright piracy and urge the government to continue their efforts," Portman commented. The GSP provides preferential duty-free entry to approximately 3,000 products from designated beneficiary countries and territories. In 2002 Washington imposed 100 percent tariff sanctions on $75 million worth of Ukrainian exports to the United States. JM

MILOSEVIC TRIAL RESUMES IN THE HAGUE
After a six-week recess, the trial of deposed Yugoslav and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic continued in The Hague on 23 January without any discussion about the defendant being allowed to temporarily travel to Moscow for medical treatment, B92 reported the same day. Milosevic had requested that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) allow him to go to Moscow and the Russian government issued guarantees that he would be returned to The Hague after his treatment. ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte opposed the move (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2006). The tribunal heard testimony from retired Admiral Milan Kotur, who was in charge of the Yugoslav People's Army's Prishtina corps infantry during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. BW

SERBIAN OFFICIAL SAYS LAW ENFORCEMENT MOBILIZED TO APPREHEND WAR-CRIMES SUSPECTS
Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade, said on 23 January that the problems Serbia is having delivering wanted fugitives to the ICTY will soon be resolved, Beta and B92 reported the same day. "I think that a complete political, legal, and law-enforcement mobilization exists, and other forces are joining as well in order to get something done," Vekaric said. "All of Serbia can no longer remain hostage to two individuals. It is time for these people to show that they are true patriots and surrender themselves to the Hague tribunal," he added in apparent reference to war-crimes fugitives Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Vekaric added that the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office is currently working on about 40 cases, mostly revolving around alleged crimes committed in Kosova, as well as a smaller number concerning Bosnia-Herzegovina. BW

KOSOVAR PRESIDENT TO BE BURIED IN UCK CEMETERY IN GESTURE OF UNITY
Deceased Kosova President Ibrahim Rugova will be buried alongside guerillas from the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) who were killed in the province's 1998-99 war as a gesture of unity, Reuters reported on 23 January. "His wish was to be buried in the martyrs' graveyard," Reuters quoted a source close to the presidency as saying. The "martyrs' graveyard" is a Prishtina cemetery reserved for fallen UCK fighters. Many in the UCK were fiercely critical of Rugova for supporting passive resistance rather than embracing their armed struggle against Serbian rule. But Reuters quoted an unidentified source in the Kosova Protection Corps, the civilian successor to the UCK, as saying that the corps will participate in the burial ceremony and "act in accordance" with the decision of the funeral committee. BW

MAN FABRICATES ASSASSINATION PLOT AGAINST MOBTEL FOUNDER
A petty criminal from Nis has admitted that he fabricated a story about an assassination plot against tycoon Bogoljub Karic in hopes of making money, B92 reported on 23 January. Ivan Markovic told police that he had been hired to kill Karic for a sum of 600,000 euros (about $720,000). He later admitted that he made up the entire story after reading about a scandal at mobile-phone operator Mobtel, a company Karic founded, in hopes of receiving some reward from the businessman for saving his life, B92 reported, citing a police official. Karic and his brother, Sreten Karic, are the subjects of separate criminal probes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 17, 18, and 19 January 2006). Djokica Draskovic, head of the Interior Ministry's public-order section, said Markovic will not be charged with a crime, but would be fined 4,000 dinars (about $60) for fabricating the story. BW

MONTENEGRIN TRAIN DERAILMENT KILLS AT LEAST 44
At least 44 people were killed and 180 injured in a train derailment on 23 January near the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, international news agencies reported the next day. At least five of the dead were children. The train, which had been en route to the Adriatic port of Bar, derailed at Bioce, about 10 kilometers outside Podgorica. The cause of the accident was a faulty braking system, Hina reported. "A terrible tragedy happened at Bioce and everything is being done to reduce the number of casualties as much as possible," Reuters quoted President Filip Vujanovic as saying at the scene of the crash in the Moraca River gorge. Transport Minister Andrija Lompar and National Railways chief Ranko Medenica have resigned over the crash and the Montenegrin government has declared three days of mourning. BW

MOLDOVA PROTESTS RUSSIAN OFFICIAL'S 'THREAT' AGAINST PRESIDENT
The Moldavian Foreign Ministry has asked its Russian counterpart to clarify apparently threatening remarks made by Unified Energy Systems (EES) CEO Anatoly Chubais, moldova.org reported on 21 January. After former Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat was sentenced to 10 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2006), Chubais said Moldavian President Vladimir Voronin should expect "serious problems" in the near future. Pasat worked as an adviser to Chubais at EES. The Moldavian Foreign Ministry submitted a protest note saying that threats against the president are unacceptable, and Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan has asked Moscow for an official explanation. BW

THERE IS NO END NOTE TODAY


UN: AFGHANISTAN FACES MAJOR RISK OF BIRD FLU
The country representative of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Serge Verniau, said on 23 January that Afghanistan faces a "huge" risk for the spread of bird flu, including the strain which can be lethal to humans, AFP reported. Noting that Afghanistan was at the convergence of several migratory routes for birds, Verniau added that "there is a high possibility the country could be infected." According to the FAO representative, while the risk was not "inevitable," it was "huge." The FAO has called for a program that includes strengthening animal-disease surveillance, a public-awareness campaign, and drawing up a plan for a possible outbreak. The Afghan Public Health Ministry had cautioned the public in November about bird flu, advising Afghans to report sick chickens to agricultural officials, to prevent children from touching chickens, and to avoid eating imported chickens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2005). AT

KABUL CAUTIONS ON THREAT TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS AGAINST TERRORISTS
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said during a visit to Doha on 22 January that Kabul does not favor the use of nuclear weapons against terrorist targets, AFP reported. Commenting on comments by French President Jacques Chirac on 19 January that France is prepared to use nuclear weapons against any state that launches terror strikes against France, Abdullah said his country does not accept that its territory "be used to strike terrorists with nuclear arms." According to Abdullah, military action is one means of confronting terrorism. He pointed to the "dialogue between civilizations" and education as other possible means to combat terrorism. AT

JAILBREAKERS IN KABUL MAY HAVE HAD INSIDE HELP
Seven police have been arrested after seven prisoners with alleged links to the neo-Taliban escaped from Pul-e Charkhi Prison on the outskirts of Kabul, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 23 January. A source wishing to remain anonymous told Pajhwak that a team of 30 soldiers is searching for the escapees but has not found any clues as to how the managed to escape. Another anonymous source identified the escapees as residents of the southern Kandahar Province who were detained on charges of having links to the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Pul-e Charkhi prison superintendent General Abdul Salam Bakhshi, however, denied charges that the escapees were important prisoners. AT

FIRST FEMALE SINGER IN YEARS ENTERTAINS AFGHANS IN CONCERT
Tajik singer Maniza Daulat has become the first female performer to tour Afghanistan since the fall of the communist regime in 1992, PakTribune reported on 23 January. In her opening night concert in Kabul on 19 January amid tight security, Daulat began her performance wearing a headscarf and singing about her deceased father. However, later she appeared wearing jeans and her head uncovered -- a rarity for a woman in most parts of Afghanistan -- and began dancing on the stage. Sediq Saleh, who attended the concert, remarked that Daulat's performance brought him hope that Afghanistan is "stepping back towards normal life after long years of tyranny and war." While male Afghan singers and an Indian singer have performed in a few concerts in their country, no female performer has thus far appeared in public although there is no official ban on such performances. AT

FATAL BOMBINGS OCCUR IN SOUTHWEST IRAN
Initial reports on 24 January assert that two bombs went off in different parts of the southwestern city of Ahvaz and, according to state television, the police reported that four people were killed and many others were injured. Colonel Salehi of the police later said, "six people have so far been killed and 15 people injured in Kianpars Street opposite Saman Bank. In the Golestan Road opposite Natural Resources Department also nine of our fellow Ahvazi citizens were injured." Salehi said the explosions were caused by percussion grenades. Percussion grenades normally make a loud noise but do not spread shrapnel or otherwise cause injuries. Seyyed Nezam Molla-Hoveyzeh, the parliamentary representative from Dasht-i Azadegan, blamed the bombing on counterrevolutionaries, ILNA reported. He referred to prior incidents in Ahvaz, and noted that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's trip to the city was cancelled for security reasons. He added, "A satellite network has been provoking ethnic and nationalistic issues recently; and some networks outside the country have been active to encourage separatism in Khuzestan." Ahvaz and the Kuzhestan Province have a very large ethnic Arab population. BS

SWISS BANK PULLS OUT OF IRAN...
Switzerland's UBS bank is cutting all ties to customers in Iran, Radio Farda reported on 22 January, citing the "Sonntag Zeitung." Bank spokesman Sergei Steiner said the decision is motivated by high compliance costs that relate to regulatory and security concerns, rather than politics or the nuclear issue. He said the process of cutting ties began in the fall. Steiner said the development does not affect Iranian customers outside that country. Another major international bank, Credit Suisse, said it is following Iranian affairs closely and with concern, Radio Farda reported. BS

...WHILE TEHRAN SAYS ITS FINANCIAL ACTIVITIES ARE NORMAL
Seeking to reassure the international community about Iranian financial behavior, government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said on 23 January that the country's activities are normal, IRNA reported. Elham was reacting to reports that Iran is withdrawing its currency holdings in European banks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). Elham also dismissed reports that a Swiss bank has severed its connection with Iran. A 23 January report in the "Etemad" daily, meanwhile, argued that Iran risks having its assets frozen if it does not transfer them from European banks. Putting "all her eggs in one basket," the report continued, would increase the dangers to Iran of international isolation and pressure stemming from the nuclear issue. BS

IRANIAN HEALTH WORKERS COMPLAIN OF ECONOMIC MAFIA
A number of contract workers at Iranian hospitals and clinics have complained in a letter to leaders of the Islamic Republic about the state of their livelihood, Radio Farda reported on 22 January. The signatories described their situation as alive but not really living, and they complained that there is little compliance with labor laws, they have no opportunity to use vacation time, and they cannot accrue vacation time. They went on to ask in the letter whether President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government, which came into office vowing to eliminate the so-called economic mafia, is unable to fulfill that promise. BS

TEHRAN DEMANDS ISLAMABAD'S HELP PURSUING KIDNAPPERS...
Iranian Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said on 23 January that if the Pakistani government is not able to deal with the Baluchis who recently kidnapped Iranian border guards, Fars News Agency reported, then Islamabad should "allow us to persecute, in their land, those who create insecurity in Iran." An ethnic Baluchi group calling itself Jundullah kidnapped an unknown number of Iranian border guards in late December, and on 19 January it claimed to have executed one of them. BS

... AS INTERIOR MINISTER DISCUSSES PROVINCIAL INSECURITY
Pur-Mohammadi, who was speaking on the eve of President Ahmadinejad's planned trip to the southwestern Khuzestan Province, addressed insecurity there, Fars News Agency reported on 23 January. He said officials from his ministry have made repeated trips to Khuzestan Province, and a Supreme National Security Council meeting focused specifically on the province. Khuzestan Province, which is inhabited by many ethnic Arabs and which borders Iraq, was the site of several bombings and violent demonstrations last summer. ISNA reported in the evening of 23 January that Ahmadinejad's trip to Khuzestan Province had been cancelled due to poor weather. BS

APPOINTMENTS MADE IN IRAN'S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS
The Supreme Board for Streamlining the Armed Forces' Air Fleet met on 23 January with President Ahmadinejad, armed-forces General Staff chief Major General Hassan Aqai-Firuzabadi, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, and regular armed-forces commander Major General Ataollah Salehi, ILNA reported. They discussed military aviation needs in light of several recent aircraft disasters, and decided that a greater proportion of the budget is necessary to meet their requirements. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 21 January appointed Brigadier General Ali-Reza Zahedi as commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps ground forces, Fars News Agency reported. Zahedi succeeds ground-forces commander Ahmad Kazemi, who along with 10 other people died in a 9 January airplane crash. Khamenei also appointed Brigadier Hussein Salami commander of the corps' air force. He succeeds Zahedi. BS

IRANIAN EXECUTIVE BRANCH MAKES DIPLOMATIC APPOINTMENT
President Ahmadinejad on 21 January approved the appointment of Ali Reza Moayeri as Iran's permanent representative in Geneva to the United Nations, IRNA reported. Moayeri served previously as ambassador to France and as a presidential international-affairs adviser. Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham has selected Ali Akbar Javanfekr as his adviser, ISNA reported on 22 January. BS

TWO GERMAN ENGINEERS KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ
Armed gunmen kidnapped two German engineers in the town of Bayji, located 180 kilometers north of Baghdad, on 24 January, international media reported. The men worked at a detergent plant inside an industrial complex next to the Bayji oil refinery, Al-Jazeera reported, citing Iraqi Lieutenant Colonel Kadhim Abbas. Six armed gunmen traveling in two vehicles grabbed the two engineers. According to the BBC, the men were taken from the house they were staying in at the plant. The BBC's website reported that police believed the engineers were taken north to Mosul; road blocks were set up in an attempt to find the abductors' vehicles but failed to find the men. Meanwhile, there is still no word on the fate of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, who was kidnapped in Baghdad on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). Also, the wife of 74-year-old British hostage Norman Kember, who was kidnapped in Iraq two months ago, appealed for her husband's release on 23 January, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. KR

AL-DUJAYL TRIAL IN IRAQ DELAYED...
The trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants failed to resume on 24 January following a one-month break, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. A tribunal spokesman told reporters that the resumption of the trial was delayed after a number of complainant witnesses failed to appear because they were on hajj. The trial will reportedly resume on 29 January. Tribunal officials announced on 23 January that Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman has been temporarily appointed to replace Chief Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin, who resigned from the tribunal last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2005). The tribunal had appointed Judge Sa'id al-Hammashi to replace Amin, but concerns over al-Hammashi's former membership in the Ba'ath Party prompted the tribunal to reverse that decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2006). Newly appointed Judge Abd al-Rahman is a 65-year-old Kurd from the town of Halabjah. He became a judge in the 1990s and served as the head of the lawyers' association in Al-Sulaymaniyah Governorate, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 23 January. Abd al-Rahman has been serving on a different panel of the tribunal. KR

...WHILE OTHER LOGISTICAL ISSUES REPORTED
The appointment of new Chief Judge Abd al-Rahman, and a second judge to replace Sa'id al-Hammashi, who has been taken off the Al-Dujayl trial because of his alleged Ba'athist ties, also appeared to contribute to the 24 January delay, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 24 January. An RFI correspondent who was to attend the session reported that the court appeared less organized than earlier sessions. Contrary to earlier sessions, Iraqi officials left those attending the session uninformed of the reasons for the delay until four hours after the trial was to resume. There was no explanation given as to why the court did not delay the session ahead of 24 January when it apparently knew witnesses were not available to testify. Reporters at the session were given outdated handouts still listing Amin as chief judge, he added. Meanwhile, Al-Sharqiyah television reported that strict security measures were in place in and around Baghdad's Green Zone. The bridges connecting Al-Rusafah and Al-Karkh, where the Green Zone is located, have been closed to vehicle traffic. KR

U.S. ARMY INTERROGATOR GIVEN REPRIMAND OVER IRAQI DEATH
A U.S. Army interrogator convicted of negligent homicide in the death of an Iraqi general who died during interrogation was given a reprimand by a Colorado military jury rather than a prison sentence, washingtonpost.com reported on 24 January. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer reportedly shoved Major General Abid Hamid Mawhush into a sleeping bag, wrapped him in a cord and straddled him during a 2003 interrogation, after which Mawhush stopped breathing. According to court testimony, Welshofer's supervising officer had approved the interrogation technique. Jurors sentenced Welshofer to 60 days in barracks, except to attend work and religious services, and fined him $6,000, AP reported. He had faced up to three years in prison. KR

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